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Aging employees will drive up health-care costs
March 19, 2004
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New York, N.Y. --As the employee population ages over the next five to fifteen years, it is likely that the prevalence of heart disease, cancer and arthritis among American workers will increase substantially and that employers will look for greater partnership among medical carriers and disability insurers to reduce future workplace absences and increase productivity. These are some recommendations in A Year in the Life of A Million American Workers, a new book by MetLife.

"Many employers don't realize the significant impact that disability can have on productivity, healthcare costs and the bottom-line," says Dr. Leopold.

"Approximately 10 percent of an employer's workforce will be on short-term disability leave over the course of a year; this is the exact time when employees are consuming more than half of the company's medical expenditures. It's critical that businesses carefully examine their health and disability patterns in order to get a better control on costs."

The forecasted health-related trends are:

  • The aging workforce could drive twice the prevalence of arthritis in the workforce in the next 15 years, causing employers to reengineer job tasks, job sites and job tools.
  • The upward trend in obesity-related illnesses should begin to curb as public pressure forces increased awareness and preventative measures.
  • The aging workforce could drive three times the prevalence of heart disease in the workforce in the next ten years, forcing greater societal intolerance for sedentary lifestyles, smoking and obesity.
  • As the workforce ages, the incidence of cancer is likely to increase two-fold over the next ten years, putting new pressures on employer-sponsored health plans. Expect to see new insurance-related penalties for risky lifestyle choices such as smoking.
  • As productivity demands continue to surge, look for stress, anxiety and depression levels among blue-collar workers to increase significantly over the next five years, erasing the stereotype of psychiatric illness as a "white-collar disease."
  • With antibiotic-resistant strains on the rise and greater international migration, look for new epidemics of infectious diseases to challenge the American workforce over the next ten years.
  • As individuals are increasingly responsible for managing -- and paying for -- their healthcare, expect to see greater discrepancies between the haves and have-nots. Industries with large populations of low-wage workers will face rising healthcare and disability costs.
  • Over the next five years, expect employers to hold medical carriers increasingly accountable for reducing absences and returning employees to work quickly. There will be a blurring of the roles traditionally assumed by medical providers and disability carriers.

In light of these trends, disease prevention will take on an increasingly critical role for employers, employees and the medical community.

"Prevention of illness or injury is the highest priority for appropriately managing workplace absences," says Jane Brody, personal health columnist for The New York Times.

"Investing in prevention and risk reduction programs such as mental health services, physical rehabilitation services and cardiac wellness programs can be very beneficial to an employer's bottom line."

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